Print Edition: May 8, 2013
There haven’t been many stories in the last week that have captured the attention of the public and the media the way the article written by Jason Collins on the Sports Illustrated website has. The article is intended to inform the world that Collins is gay.
Collins opens the article with the simple statement “I’m a 34-year-old NBA centre. I’m black. And I’m gay.” He moves on to describe his journey in coming out of the closet and his motivations behind it. Generally, Collins describes it as a process of coming to realize what he wanted in life and from there stepping forward and realizing that to truly be himself he needed to be honest with the world around him.
Coming out of the closet is something that took a ton of courage and bravery. The general tone of response from the media and public has been overwhelmingly positive, with various high profile athletes and media outlets openly professing support for Collins. There is also talk of Collins signing a major deal with Nike as well as talk of Collins signing a contract for more money with the next team he plays for (Collins is a free agent as of this summer).
On the surface it seems as though Collins has actually increased his personal worth by coming out to the public. He has gone from a relative unknown in the world to the first openly gay professional athlete. Collins will now be under the public microscope on and off the court for many years to come.
Open discrimination based on sexuality is not a response that has been prevalent to Collins coming out. Those who may have a negative opinion of Collins have generally kept those opinions away from the mainstream media.
The pressure now sits on Collins’ shoulders to continue to be relevant as an athlete. Bravery aside, this man will not have nearly the impact on the world if he does not continue to compete in the NBA. To have an active NBA player competing on a nightly basis under the public eye could make Collins one of the most important ambassadors to the LGBT community, whether Collins wishes it or not.
What makes the declaration of Collins’ homosexuality so important to our society is the way it goes against all the assumed norms. Male athletes are expected to be strong, masculine, testosterone-fueled straight men. If that were not the norm, then this announcement wouldn’t be breaking news. In many senses the sporting world is lagging behind the rest of our society in terms of tolerance and acceptance.
For Collins to exist in a sports world which is still widely known for intolerance and very traditional views of masculinity, it represents a massive step forward towards tolerance. Collins becomes a regular public reminder that the world is changing; acceptance is becoming the norm, and whoever chooses to not accept this will be left behind.
Stepping into the spotlight and exposing his vulnerability to the world is the first step for Collins in his journey to live his life as he is, no longer living as he is expected to be by the world surrounding him. Collins has become an ambassador for acceptance and tolerance, and the hope is that he can continue this role for many years to come.